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Meet Siddharth Desai: The PKL sensation who hits the right notes on and off the mat

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"I had never thought in my wildest dreams that I would score 50 points this quickly. Mujhe nahi pata, yeh apne aap ho raha hai (I don't know how, but it's just happening by itself)," Siddharth Desai grins.

He isn't to be blamed for not having an answer either. Only a few could have guessed that a newcomer in the Pro Kabaddi League would end up being the fastest to score 50 raid points in the history of the tournament.

As of now, the 26-year-old stands at No. 3 in the total points tally, only below Indian captain Ajay Thakur (69 points in 6 matches) and crorepati Nitin Tomar (65 points in 5 matches).

***

A baritone echoes in a dimly lit room, as a man - barely visible - gently strums his guitar to the tunes of Atif Aslam's 'O Saathi'. It can easily pass off as yet another YouTube channel of an aspiring musician until the eye meets the name of the uploader - Siddharth Desai Pro Kabaddi.

One word then meets the mind: Unexpected.

It's not wrong to say that Desai has literally lived up to the word. Mixing his love for music with his passion for kabaddi, he has become the brightest debutant of the PKL's sixth season and his team U Mumba, surpassing the likes of megastars Rahul Chaudhary and Pardeep Narwal, scoring 51 raid points in just four matches - including three Super 10s for a stunning average of 12.75 points per match. And no one expected that. At least Desai himself did not.

"I'm honestly just playing while the points are automatically coming," explains Desai. And how is music to be credited here? "It helps me focus, it helps me concentrate. I sit with my guitar and play whenever I get time," he says.

***

A man of few words, Desai, hailing from Phulewadi town in Kolhapur, started his kabaddi journey two decades back, from the little age of six. "I was in Class 1 when I started playing kabaddi. Mere gaav ka sport hai yeh (It's the sport of my village). My father, my brother, all have been kabaddi players, so I grew up with the game. It was normal for me to take it up."

For Desai, it was always just a game meant for fun, before a turnaround happened four years back. "I was doing my B.Sc back in Kolhapur and used to play the local tournaments quite often. But it was just something I used to do because I enjoyed it. I only started taking it seriously after the launch of the Pro Kabaddi League. That's when I realised that the game had this good a future. That's when I seriously started working on my fitness and skills."

Before the PKL, Desai had been playing the game, representing Air India since the past two years. However, it took a while for him to make his presence felt in the league itself. The selection process was hard, and contenders too many. That's when the Nationals paved the way for his rise. "For a new player to be eligible to qualify for the PKL, their age either has to be below 22 years or they should be a part of the Nationals. I was playing for clubs in Pune, and it was only this year that I made it to the Maharashtra team for the Nationals in Hyderabad. We ended up winning it, and the rest is history," he says.

History, indeed, as U Mumba, yet to be defeated so far, currently lead the Zone A points table. And Desai has been instrumental in the results. He, though, is simply happy to be a part of the team. "It's been a privilege. From team Maharashtra to team Mumba, I've been very lucky so far. We've been winners in Season 2 and I honestly wanted to play for them. I used to support them too and watch them on TV. It was a dream to be a part of them, and today I am," he smiles.

Any kabaddi follower would vouch for Desai's speed and power, something he too feels is his USP. "If the defence is weak from the left cover, I can raid from there. If it's weak from the right, I can raid from there. I can raid from both sides with my skills, and that's exactly where I think I stand out," he says.

As a follower himself though, he has his own fanboy moments. "I follow Monu Goyat, Surjeet Singh and Maninder Singh the most. They are my favourites. Their style of play is fantastic and you can learn from them just by watching them."

With almost three months in hand at the PKL and a great start so far, Desai wants to play for the Indian team in the future but his focus is on two things at present. "I want to score 150 plus raid points in the season." As far as Mumba is concerned, he - as quickly as he raids - says, "Hum final maarke dikhayenge, ma'am (We are going to win the final)."